Barring a post-winter blast, at least one Geauga Park District controversy should cool down for a few months -- that being the introduction of snowmobiling on a trial basis in the 1,100-acre Observatory Park in Montville Township.
This is not a new controversy for the park district whose founding commitment to "preservation, conservation and protection" has been questioned relentlessly over the past two years.
In fact, it was a significant issue in 1995, when the park district, bolstered by passage of a 1-mill tax levy, acquired what became known as the West Woods in Russell and Newbury townships.
As I wrote at the time, "The old question is whether high-speed, noisy, polluting snowmobiles are compatible with the county park system's concept of preserving natural areas for passive enjoyment of area residents. The answer is an emphatic no."
However, as I try to do, sometimes more successfully than others, I saw another side to the story. "The new context of the old question is that snowmobiles have been using portions of the (acreage) for years," I wrote. "Snowmobile enthusiasts, with the permission of the property's longtime owner, ASM International, established many of the trails there. They have invested in them, maintained them and carried liability insurance."
In conclusion, I said: "Parks often go out of their way to create trails and other facilities for the enjoyment of a small minority who ride horses. Perhaps they can find a small way to accommodate those who enjoy snowmobiles too."
Personally, I much prefer driving snowmobiles to riding horses.
But the Geauga Park District, under much different leadership 20 years ago, didn't see it my way. The West Woods now has more than five miles of horse trails but not an inch for snowmobiles. The district offers 20.5 miles of horse trails in eight parks but none for snowmobiles -- until this winter.
To be sure, there are now, as there were then, many Geauga County citizens who have no tolerance whatsoever for snowmobile riding in the park system that they helped acquire and sustain with their taxes. They can point to other options for those who enjoy that winter activity, including a five-mile trail at Punderson State Park right here in Geauga County, a 15-mile trail at Mosquito Lake State Park in neighboring Trumbull County and a 20-mile trail at West Branch State Park in neighboring Portage County.
Indeed, the opening of a shorter trail to snowmobiles and consequent exclusion of other users at Observatory Park, given its International Dark Sky status, seems to be a stick in the eye to those citizens who have resisted the recreational incursions upon their park district under the leadership of Geauga County Probate Judge Timothy J. Grendell. The covert, unilateral cultivation of that edict by the judge's gofer-in-chief and the autocratic putdown of citizens' objections only clarified that vitreous perspective.
For many, the erosion of tried-and-true park district objectives is all the reason they need to feed their continuing resistance to change. For others, myself included, the method by which changes are being shoved down the community's throat is most objectionable.
In 2014, some 2,500 signatures were collected on a petition seeking to restore the longstanding park district bylaws that had been subverted by Judge Grendell's new park board. This February, a petition with some 2,000 signatures was presented to the Ohio Legislature pleading for the judge's removal from office.
I'm aware of one guy who petitioned for snowmobiles in the Geauga Park District back in 1995.